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MLB Barometer: A First Look At Changing Values

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

Welcome to another season of the Barometer. In this first edition of the baseball season, I'll talk about some players who have moved into better situations or teams that will impact their fantasy value.

Stock Up:

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, BOS, Adam Dunn, 1B, CHI - I lumped these two together as they both move into better lineups and hitter's parks. We all know how Petco Park suppressed Gonzalez's numbers and Dunn moves out of a neutral field to the hitter-friendly confines of U.S. Cellular field. Dunn has been Mr. Consistent, hitting 38, 38, 40, 40, 40 and 40 home runs over the last six seasons. Gonzalez's shoulder woes are a bit of a concern but I'm guessing the Red Sox's medical staff was satisfied enough to give the green light on trading for him. I expect both sluggers to challenge for the home run crown and approaching/eclipsing the 50-homer mark is a legitimate possibility.

Matt Joyce, OF, TB - Right now Joyce is penciled in as the everyday right fielder for the Rays. Last year an elbow injury cost him the first part of the season and he ended up at Triple-A Durham for a brief stint. Once called up to the Rays, he posted a .837 OPS and demonstrated good plate discipline as his 55:40 K:BB ratio indicates. He might initially sit against lefties (13 Ks in 25 plate appearances, .080 batting average last year), but should see the majority of platoon at-bats as a left-handed hitter. Don't forget about him when considering who you should take as your fifth outfielder.

J.J. Hardy, SS, BAL - We only have a one-year sample but it appears that Target Field will play as a pitcher's park instead of a hitter's. Playing half of his games there coupled with a wrist injury made 2010 a big disappointment for Hardy owners. How much did Target field affect him? Let's look at last year's stats between Target Field and away:

Home - in 159 at-bats, he hit one home run while batting .252
Away - in 181 at-bats, he hit five homers while batting .282

If Hardy stays healthy and finds north of 600 plate appearances, expect a floor of 15 home runs. With shortstop being an extremely thin position, don't forget him if you miss out on the upper tier players.

Danny Espinosa, 2B, WAS - Espinosa broke out in a big way last year for the Nats, finishing with a 28/25 season over three levels. He has his flaws, including the 29 percent strikeout rate he had in 112 plate appearances with the big club. However, he also had six home runs during that span demonstrating his power. With some improved discipline at the plate, he could approach a 20/20 season as soon as this year. Given the upside of Ian Desmond, the Nats have one of the better middle infields of the future.

Justin Masterson, P, CLE - I know the knock on Masterson - he can't get out lefties. Managers knew this and ran out every lefty on their bench whenever they came up against him. At some point Masterson made an adjustment, as he was unhittable as soon as the calendar turned August. He had a 2.43 ERA over his last 66.2 innings, a stark difference from his 6.32 ERA in July. Most owners this year will look at his overall stats - a 6-13 record with a 4.70 ERA. Advanced stat lovers will like to note that both his FIP and xFIP finished below 4.00, suggesting a better season than a quick glance would. The stat that's most interesting to me is his ground ball rate, which checked in just below 60 percent last season. This is a result of his best pitch, a hard sinker. Look for him to eclipse the double digit mark in the win column with a healthy Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana and shed some ERA in his second full season as a starter.

Brian Matusz, P, BAL - Like Masterson, Matusz had a strong finish himself owning a 2.18 ERA over his final 62 innings. During that span he had better control of the strike zone, walking only 2.32 batters per nine innings, an improvement from the 3.72 BB/9 mark he had until that point. I think he's going to become a trendy sleeper as the first game approaches; think of him as last year's Brett Anderson. Someone will reach for him in re-draft leagues so if you're sold on last year's finish as I am, don't wait too long to snag him.

Jose Reyes, SS, NYM - I usually brush aside any type of "I'm feeling the best ever, in the greatest shape of my career" notes. So of course I'll contradict myself and say I'm pleased that Reyes is saying he feels the best he has over the last two years. Does he play in a great hitter's park? No. Has he done anything solid over the last two years after being an elite player from 2005-2008? No. Is he playing for a contract? Yes. Does he have Carl Crawford-like abilities while qualifying at the shallowest position in fantasy? Yes. I'm probably more bullish on him than most and expect him to pay nice dividends this year.

Jonathan Broxton, P, LAD - I love the fact that pitchers and catchers haven't reported yet and already Don Mattingly has named Broxton the closer. I don't consider Joe Torre a great bullpen manager and I'm still head-scratching after he let Broxton throw 48 pitches against the Yankees and then 44 against the Cardinals. The loss in velocity on his fastball (over 2 mph from 2009) is a concern but there are too many reasons to speculate why that happened. I expect Mattingly to be smarter with his usage of Broxton and I would gamble on Broxton's upside rather than buy into the upper pitch-count reliever he was last year.

Alcides Escobar, SS, KC - Escobar let down fantasy owners in 2010, swiping only 10 bags. A move to KC and playing under a new manager should change his outlook for this season. Escobar doesn't strike out too much (13.8 percent last year) and a .266 BABIP suggests he'll be on base much more this season. Hope the Royals entertain the idea of hitting him towards the top of the order and give him the green light on the base paths. If that happens, expecting 20 steals this season is the floor and not the ceiling for him this year.

Check Status:

Johan Santana, P, NY-N - Has begun throwing a baseball but that's all to this point. His return date looks like either June or July (likely the latter) and I'm not sure how effective he'll be. Yes, he's in a great park; you just don't know what to expect from him after the invasive surgery. Tread lightly here.

Chris Sale, P, CHI-A - Sale is another pitcher who is becoming a trendy pick this year as a potential closer. Ozzie Guillen and all his great sound bites haven't given him a definitive role but suggested he'll be in the bullpen. There aren't too many other options there as the Sox let a bunch of their veteran relievers walk. This is another situation to keep an eye on during spring training as he could yield solid value if named the closer. Remember that although some have moved on (see Bobby Jenks) Matt Thornton is still around.

Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, P, ATL - The Braves have themselves a closing conundrum, which is a good thing. Both have solid stuff, yet I like Kimbrel more than Venters over the long haul. Look at his pedigree; he had excellent numbers at Triple-A Gwinnett, which only improved when promoted to Atlanta. In 20.2 innings for the Braves, Kimbrel struck out 40 (almost an 18 K/9 rate) and allowed only one earned run (for a 0.44 ERA). Venters is a lefty and while Fredi Gonzalez has stated they'll share closer duties, I'd bank on Kimbrel getting the lion's share of saves. Hope that there is further clarification before the season starts.

Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, P, PIT - This is another closer dilemma that will hopefully be resolved during the spring. Manager Clint Hurdle has expressed a desire to have someone step up and claim the role which means there probably won't be co-closers. If I had to make a guess which player will have the ninth inning role, I'd go with Hanrahan given his high K rate (12.9 per nine innings to Meek's 7.88 mark). Look for one or the other to claim the role before the season starts.

Homer Bailey, P, CIN - I'm not going to pretend this comment is of my own doing. When Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson had Albert Pujols on the satellite radio show (I think I was on the next day; slight downgrade in celebrity status), Albert mentioned Bailey as a sleeper candidate. As a slightly above average hitter, I'll trust his judgment and give Bailey a ringing endorsement. The pedigree (a word I'll use a lot this season) is there; maybe he needed more time to put it all together. That being said, he'll be fighting for a rotation spot during the spring and could end up in the bullpen as a long reliever.

Scott Sizemore, Will Rhymes, Carlos Guillen, 2B DET - Give me the three-sided die to figure out what's going to happen here. First Guillen, if healthy (a big "if") will be the man and have extra value as a second baseman. If I speculate on the other two players, sign me up for Sizemore who has a nice power/speed combo (he went 17/20 over two levels in 2009). Guillen hasn't gotten above 277 at-bats in either of the last two seasons due to injury and could fill-in at first, DH or the OF.

Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN - You want to see the definition of a high risk/high reward player? Morneau will fit that bill coming off a shortened season after suffering a concussion. Concussions as we all know are unpredictable and have ended the careers of not only football but baseball players (see former Twin Corey Koskie). Before the injury, Morneau was tearing up pitching despite playing half his games in Target Field, to the tune of 18 HRs, 56 RBI and a .345 average in only 296 at-bats. Watch the reports on him in spring training and grab him if he comes at a discount.

Domonic Brown, OF, PHI - I thought it was very telling when the Phillies dealt Michael Taylor to the A's and kept Brown since the two were neck-and-neck on most prospect lists at the time. It's unclear exactly what Brown's role will be this season. Will he go to the minors with a poor spring or be part of a platoon? He was dominant in the minors a season ago, hitting at least .318 with 20 home runs and 17 stolen bases over two levels. However, he looked overmatched when called up to the Phillies, striking out 24 times in 67 plate appearances (35.8 percent of the time). As a result, the Phillies re-signed Ben Francisco as an insurance policy who could steal time away if Brown doesn't impress in the preseason. There's a ton of upside here with Brown but owners need to monitor his production during the preseason.

Michael Young, 3B, TEX - I'm starting to think that the Texas brass won't be getting a holiday card from Young when December rolls around. The truth about Young is his value will be largely tied to where he's playing his home games. Out the eight potential teams he could be traded to, only Colorado and the Yankees would be comparable destinations as far as hitter's parks go. Of course, Young could also end up staying put in Arlington where he's thrived. Over the last four seasons, he's had a better home than away batting average and had a total 42:22 home/away split for home runs. Keep an eye on his status over the upcoming weeks as his value will be largely tied to what uniform he dons on Opening Day.

Downgrades:

Stephen Strasburg, P, WAS - Sigh. I raised eyebrows two years ago at my hometown keeper-league draft when I made a standing offer to each of the owners who had the top-5 minor league picks (I had the 11th pick). I offered both my picks for that season and both picks the following season as long as Strasburg was available. The guy at pick five bit and thus I became the VP of the Strasburg fan club. OK, enough of my boring personal stories. We know about the injury and while all reports look good, don't expect much, if anything out of Strasburg this season. I'd target him in keeper leagues if you find yourself out of the running by mid-season, as he should be good to go in 2012. Even if he makes a return this year, I wouldn't count on great stats as guys don't suddenly return to form after such a significant surgery. Hope for the best, as it's possible that he could throw harder after the surgery (as I write this, visions of rainbows, unicorns and never-ending beer out of my kitchen faucet run through my head).

Russell Martin, C, NYY - It's never good to hear your catcher openly state he's not going to be 100 percent with catchers due to report this week. Martin dealt with both knee and hip issues during the offseason which are likely byproducts of averaging just under 150 games played per season from 2007-2009. I'm not a doctor but I'm pretty sure the knee and hip are put under a little stress when you're catching. As a result, expect the Yankees to limit Martin's workload this season which in turn will hurt his fantasy prospects.